The Tentpole Western

magnificent_seven_2016We recently went to see The Magnificent Seven.

Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington playing Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt playing Chris Pratt, and a host of other good actors playing bad cliches of characters from westerns of yore. You have your Good Indian, the crusty old backwoodsman who hates Indians, except he becomes buddies with the Good Indian, the Asian Immigrant who knows kung-fu and knife fighting, the Mexican who thinks rape is funny, and the Widow Who Seeks Revenge.

At least the Widow could handle a rifle.

This may sound like we hated it, but 2016’s iteration of The Magnificent Seven, ostensibly a remake of the 1960’s movie of the same name, proved to be decent enough popcorn fare. The film included lots of mostly well-choreographed action scenes, even though it perpetrated the myth that you could hit moving targets with a Colt Peacemaker while riding a horse. Certainly, the stuntpeople deserve major kudos.

What this reminded me of, more than the 1960 iteration of The Magnificent Seven (in itself a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai), was Silverado, 1985’s attempt at a tentpole western. Silverado sported gorgeous visuals but seemed to be mostly famous for being Kevin Costner’s first movie in which he portrayed a living human. Every decade or so, Hollywood tries to create a western that would generate the buzz and revenue of typical summer blockbusters. While it looks like 2016’s Seven will make money, it’s not going to come close to Captain America: Civil WarZootopia, Deadpool, or, FSM help us all, Independence Day: Resurgence.

I’ve never been a fan of westerns in general, but I think trying to replicate the formula of big budget science fiction or superhero movies by using past westerns as models is doomed to failure. I mean, The Lone Ranger <cough, cough>. The era of the Big Western has long since passed, though I think room exists for stories set in the old west that avoid the old cliches of Noble Gunslingers fighting Evil Robber Barons.

This year’s Magnificent Seven deserves some praise for avoiding accusations of whitewashing (see Lone Ranger, above), casting an actual Native American as a native American, a Korean actor as an Asian, and so on. In the end, however, Magnificent Seven is another forgettable popcorn flick which won’t be remembered a few years hence.



    • David Stewart Jones on October 3, 2016 at 1:47 pm
    • Reply

    Actually, one *can* hit moving targets using a Colt Peacemaker while on horseback — provided the targets are close enough. 😉 Civil War cavalry engagements often occurred at near point-blank range between riders armed with pairs of .36 caliber or .44 caliber cap-and-ball “dragoon” pistols, and casualties were high. Carbines were only used by dismounted cavalry.

    1. I agree in principle that you can hit something at point blank range. However, that’s rarely the case in any Hollywood western and made even more egregious in Magnificent Seven.

        • David Stewart Jones on October 3, 2016 at 1:55 pm
        • Reply

        No argument here! Decades ago in my shooting-enthusiast days, I practiced shooting from moving vehicles and on horseback at targets inserted into rolling automobile tires. Impossible at first, but one gets better with practice.

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